Why We Need to Let Parents Use Campaign Funds for Childcare

Jocelyn Yow was first elected to Eastvale City Council in 2018. (Courtesy of the Re-Elect Jocelyn Yow campaign)

As a young woman of color, I have faced many barriers throughout my political career. Nevertheless, I won my election for Eastvale City Council in California at the age of 23. Then I became the youngest woman of color to serve as mayor of a California city at 25. It’s been a rewarding journey, but it hasn’t been easy. Balancing public service with parenthood is difficult—prompting the need for childcare support for working-class parents running for political office across America. 

Before I decided to run for council again, childcare was my number one concern before everything else, and I wasn’t alone. I know many other moms who shared the same concern about running for office with a child. A friend of mine—who first ran for a local California water board seat in 2018 with three young children—racked up $15,000 in credit card debt on childcare alone when she was running.

Childcare affects candidates both up and down the ballot—local races tend to attract fewer resources and donors, while city elected officials are still tasked with making major decisions affecting constituents’ lives.

When I first decided to run for reelection in Eastvale, I knew childcare would be a challenge. There are only so many events you can bring a baby along to, but I wanted to continue serving my community. It would have been extremely challenging to run for office again without any childcare assistance, so I had to be very creative to cover my childcare needs. In addition to taking my son to daycare, I called family and friends close by to ask if they could help with caring for my son; my parents came from Arizona. It really does take a village to raise a child, and I could not have been successful without my friends and family. 

I knew I would need to fundraise even more to cover the extra childcare expense when running for reelection. But women typically raise half-a-million dollars less than men in congressional races. When running for a position, candidates are in it to win it, prompting them to spend money reaching voters via advertising, texting, email, etc. Naturally, childcare is going to compete with those other priorities.

There are only so many events you can bring a baby along to, but I wanted to continue serving my community.

During my recent reelection campaign, I utilized my political campaign funds to pay for childcare for my toddler, Kayden. California—alongside Colorado, New Hampshire, New York and Utah—passed bills in 2019 to allow campaign funds to be used for campaign-related childcare expenses. A recent report from Vote Mama found a “monumental increase” in the use of campaign funds for childcare in the past few years on the federal, state and local levels.

As a beneficiary of this legislation, I know firsthand the positive impact these laws have on working moms running for office. Now, more states are trying to ensure that their political candidates are able to use campaign funds for childcare.

The Road to Supporting Parents Running for Office

On the national level, the Help America Run Act, was introduced by Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) in 2021. Amending the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, the bill would allow campaign funds to pay for childcare while campaigning. It is a step in the right direction if we’re serious about diversifying our political leadership.  

Women are too often told to wait till their kids are old enough not to need childcare before they run for office, and that’s a barrier to gender parity. Parenthood, combined with other gender inequities, makes it even harder for new mothers and parents to run and win.

Meanwhile, men still have a firm grip on America’s positions of power. Women are still underrepresented in politics: Congress is 75 percent male, only 12 states have women serving as governors and only 31 percent of state legislators are women. At the current rate of progress, it will take 118 years to get an equal number of female lawmakers in Congress. The issues facing the world are too important to rely on men alone to solve them. That said, a record number of women are running and winning—a change in legislation could speed up the road to gender parity in public office. 

Similarly to California’s legislation, 30 states have now codified the use of campaign funds for childcare. Introduced on a bipartisan basis, the laws show broad recognition that childcare is and essential step toward creating a more inclusive and diverse political landscape. Still, many states have yet to pass such legislation.

The issues facing the world are too important to rely on men alone to solve them. 

It is important that we take a holistic approach to reforming and rethinking how we finance campaigns in order to level the playing field for working class candidates and those who have historically faced barriers to running. Some candidates have had to seek approval from state election boards on a case-by-case basis, yielding mixed results. This piecemeal approach underscores the need for comprehensive legislation across the board.

IGNITE, a national nonpartisan organization devoted to young women’s political empowerment, will be hosting an advocacy day at the Massachusetts State Capitol on Feb. 8 to advocate for two bills, S422 (presented by Sen. Patricia D. Jehlen) and H669 (presented by Rep. Mike Connolly and Rep. Joan Meschino), that would allow campaign funds to be used for childcare.

Organizations like the Vote Mama Foundation advocate for legislation that would allow candidates to use personally raised campaign dollars on child and dependent care expenses directly related to running and while serving in Michigan office. Vote Mama is also working with Rep. Emma Mulvaney-Stanak (D-Vt.) to introduce bills allowing for childcare reimbursement for official duties. 

Our democratic process should strive to be more inclusive of working class parents so that those who are making decisions affecting our daily lives reflect the population they serve. As a country we need to be more ambitious about encouraging new parents to run for office and win, and these laws are a step forward.

Up next:

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Jocelyn Yow serves on the city council in Eastvale, California. She is the legislative advocacy director of IGNITE, a national nonpartisan organization devoted to young women’s political empowerment.